Body-worn cameras likely one year away for Hilliard police

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
This is one of the button-activated WatchGuard body cameras that all Whitehall Division of Police officers in uniform or on patrol have worn since July 2018. The Hilliard Division of Police could add body-worn cameras to their uniforms, but city leaders indicated that likely would not happen until next year.

It likely will be at least one year before Hilliard Division of Police officers are equipped with body-won cameras, a technology that many other police agencies in central Ohio already utilize.

The use of body-worn cameras by law-enforcement officers has become an expectation in today’s environment, police Chief Robert Fisher wrote in a Feb. 8 memo to Hilliard City Council.

Fisher told council members he compares today’s body-worn cameras to in-cruiser video cameras that were put into use by many police departments in the 1990s, including Sharonville in suburban Cincinnati where Fisher once was an officer.

The use of body-worn cameras in central Ohio has been widely discussed after the Dec. 4 shooting of Casey Goodson Jr. by Franklin County Sheriff's Office deputy Jason Meade and the Dec. 22 shooting of Andre Hill by Columbus Division of Police officer Adam Coy.

The sheriff's office does not have body-worn cameras, though $2.5 million in funding recently was approved for them, according to WBNS-10TV, and Coy did not turn on his camera until after he shot Hill, according to his device's 60-second "look-back" feature.

“Body-worn cameras enhance the transparency of police activities and provide valuable documentation of encounters that police officers have while performing their duties,” Fisher wrote in the memo.

But although the policy itself appears to have the support of the administration and City Council, funding appears to be a challenge.

Fisher’s memo and address to City Council on Feb. 8 were follow-ups to a capital-improvements-budget workshop last year during which council members requested that funding in 2021 for body-worn cameras be removed and that a more in-depth review and discussion occur this year.

That discussion began Feb. 8 and is expected to continue, council President Pete Marsh said.

City Manager Michelle Crandall on Feb. 8 asked City Council to include funding for body-worn cameras in the 2022 capital-improvements budget.

“We will be having additional discussion to answer a few outstanding questions (at a date still to be determined),” Marsh said Feb. 10. “At that time, we may green-light (body-worn cameras) for inclusion in the 2022 capital-improvements budget and ask staff to explore potential additional funding sources."

The start-up cost to implement body-worn cameras is approximately $200,000, Fisher said.

Detective Nicole Riley holds one of the Reynoldsburg Division of Police’s switch-activated Kustom Signals body cameras in 2019. The Hilliard Division of Police could add body-worn cameras, but city leaders indicated that likely would not happen until next year.

That amount includes the purchase of cameras for sworn officers, the necessary storage capacity and software, warranties, licenses and hardware, Fisher said.

The continuing costs of body-worn cameras are not as clear to define, he said.

“Some agencies can absorb (the cost) with existing staff, but some can’t,” said Fisher, adding the cost is often dependent on the number of public requests an agency receives to prepare and provide copies of recordings.

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“I think we can absorb it but if we had a lot of public-records requests, we might need more staff,” Fisher said.

Storage systems and policy, including how often and for how long recordings are archived, also are variables in continuing costs to maintain body-worn cameras, said Duane Powell, director of information technology for Hilliard.

When asked by City Council how the rank and file of the police division view the use of body-worn cameras, Fisher replied that although there would be “varied opinions,” most "see the value of the technology.”

Fisher cited the values as meeting community expectations, enhancing personnel management, reducing misconduct complaints and improving prosecutions.

“Implementation of body-worn cameras will increase transparency and public trust, hold the division accountable and provide officers the confidence they need to perform their public-safety duties," Fisher said. "It is paramount that the division move forward and implement (body cameras)."

Law-enforcement agencies in central Ohio that have been using body cameras for some time include Columbus, Dublin, Ohio State University, Powell, Reynoldsburg, Westerville and Whitehall.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo